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Denver's eponymous debut starts off modestly enough. The first few songs are solid country numbers. Not alt-country songs, mind you, just straight, good old-fashioned country. They display skillful songwriting and delivery but don't immediately demand one's attention. But, as with changing seasons, what happens gradually suddenly becomes obvious. By the fourth song, "Dancing With the Moon," the album has quietly slipped into the realm of a classic. Something about the vocal delivery over the simple but timeless perfection of the backing music conjures artists like Johnny Paycheck and Waylon Jennings. On the next track, "Keep Your Eye Out," something else happens. The vocals, by Birger Olsen, are delivered in such a shockingly different manner than their predecessors that the listener is given pause. Initially it doesn't sound so much like a singing voice, rather a kind of muffled melodicism, but the song is so strong and catchy and deep, it's captivating. There is something unique going on here.
"Reno," by Tom Bevitori, a stirring, self-pitying story about a man alone on the road, is a perfect example of the country tradition of combining of earthy narrative with lonesome song. "Endless highways with no streetlights / I'm hitchin' rides from town to town / Headin' through Reno with much farther to go / My boot heels are scrapin' the ground," he sings. Lines encapsulate entire stories in their minimalism. On "Ridin' Alone (San Antone)" when Mike Elias leans into the first syllables of the chorus, "Way out / Ridin' Alone," a breezeless Texas highway shimmers like a mirage. The pathos in his delivery brings to mind not just the great country songwriters, but the great country singers, too.
Denver is a relatively large band, with six members who all sing harmony and three who write songs. As a result there's no filler. Bevitori, Elias and Olsen started the band, which now includes Eric Early and Mike VanPelt from indie-faves Blitzen Trapper, with Sean MacNeil on drums. Elias and Bevitori both count Garth Brooks as an early favorite, but Elias is quick to add, "Once we got deeper into it and grew up a little ... we were able to find the good stuff."
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